Big sleep: In this 1869 photo Joseph Jefferson plays Rip van Winkle, a character created by Washington Irving. *Photo by Napoleon Sarony
Big sleep: In this 1869 photo Joseph Jefferson plays Rip van Winkle, a character created by Washington Irving. *Photo by Napoleon Sarony

In April 2004, when I went to sleep, God was in His heaven, Satan was in his hell, “Dubya” was in the White House, and my Bermuda house was full of nice stuff that was all paid for. 

Half a Dip van Winkle later, I woke up in April 2014. God was still in His heaven, Satan was still in his hell, Obama was in the White House, and my Bermuda house had been cleaned out.

I’d woken from a happy dreams sleep to a wide-awake nightmare. Now I’m living the nightmare, because a lot happened during those Dip Van Winkle years. 

Bermuda Gummint’ byes went on a spending and borrowing spree. With their sub-prime lending and fancy derivatives trading, some other byes in North America and Europe almost blew up the global economy. Despite that, our Gummint’ byes kept overspending and did even more borrowing.

Still awakening, I realized that all Bermudians had experienced nothing but steadily rising prosperity for the eight decades between 1920 and 2008. 

During this time Bermuda changed from a poor agrarian society to a rich society. 

Bermuda’s economy went from normal in 1920 to oversize in 1923.  

As Bermuda’s economy went from 1920 normal to post-1923 oversize, then to peak 2008, 99 per cent of Bermudians lived and grew up in a Utopian world of ever-rising incomes and steadily increasing wealth. For eight decades Bermuda was a cornucopia.

Fifth highest GDP{

In 2008, at $92,693, Bermuda had the fifth highest GDP per capita in the world. Us lot had gone from 1920 fishin’, farmin’, and sellin’ flowers and onions to 2008 finance, financial services, and a brand-new thing called Re-Insurance, but we’d kept our side-line in tourism. 

We got to where the average incomes of Bermudians were more than twice the average incomes of the residents of once imperial Great Britain.

For those eight decades, manna fell from heaven. Whether or not He supplied it, I know not. I know only that manna fell. In 2008, manna stopped falling. It hasn’t fallen since. Whether or not He has cut us off, I know not. I poked deeper. I found that between 2004 and 2014, our Bermuda Gummint’ byes went on a hiring, spending, and borrowing spree. 

I found that between 2004 and 2014, Gummint’ had hired around 1,100 additional people. Between 2004-05 and 2014-15, spending grew by a large 3.75 per cent a year (from $808.8 to $1,169.0m) while revenue was only growing a measly 1.4 per cent a year (from $782.5m to $901.7m). 

Gummint’ went from annual deficits of –$26.3m to –$333m. And annual Debt Service Costs went from $11.4m to $161.2m. Scared out of my sleepy wits, I poked just a little deeper. I found that employment rose from 33,456 in 2004 to something around 34,000 by late 2013. Whew! I was relieved. 

At least employment hadn’t shot up!

The sleepy dust cleared.  My awakening brain hit full alert. Chingas! I realized that job growth of just 544 in 10 years meant Bermuda’s labour force had only grown an average 0.16 per cent a year. 

Fully alert, I cross-checked with GDP. GDP had grown an average 1.9 per cent a year. But this was less than the rise in the cost of living, because, to my hungry horror, I discovered that the price of a standard loaf of bread had increased 6.7 per cent  a year, going from $3.33 to $6.35. Yikes!

I was almost fully alert. I was getting angry. I believed that the people in charge had taken advantage of a sleeping man. I was getting angry because I felt betrayed. I believed that those I had trusted had ripped me off whilst I was asleep.

Totally and fully alert, my whirling brain focused on now and the future. I realized that I, too, had done something wrong. In that Dip Van Winkle decade, I had over trusted and under checked. I accepted that. But I was still angry. 

What lessons have I learned? In future, I must not trust blindly. I must not assume that someone else is checking things. I must not believe that those who say that they know what they are doing really do know. That despite all that they say, I must still watch them, check them, question them, and hold them to account.

Stay angry

My deepest lesson is that I must stay angry and when I sleep, as sleep I must, keep one eye open.

To all you others out there, learn from my sad tale. Watch them! Check them! Question them! Get mad! Stay mad! And sleep with one eye open!

Meanwhile, out past North Rock, God will probably stay in His heaven, Satan might stay in his hell, and Hillary may get back in the White House. But my house and cupboard are bare, I owe all this “bleddy” money, and I ain’t got no job.

I’m feeling the way my favourite writer and poet Langston Hughes felt when he wrote that highly expressive poem:

“Here I sit

With my shoes mismated.

Lawdy-mercy!

I’s frustrated!”